Saturday, July 5, 2014

Can the Euroskeptic States Topple the E.U.?

Can we say that an E.U. state is Euroskeptic? If so, Britain would be a consistent candidate for the label. Yet what about when Tony Blair was the prime minister? Poland and the Czech Republic have also swung back and forth in line with the electoral winds within those states. If states are less fixed than typically thought with respect to being Euroskeptic, then what looks like intractable skepticism may in fact be more easily overcome at the state level. It follows that the E.U. itself has more chance than typically presumed to obviate its own decline and dissolution.
When Poland had a conservative government, for example, it was easy to view that state as being in the Euroskeptic camp. Then a change of government brought the state firmly in support of Angela Merkel’s pro-integrationist position. Similarly, the Czech Republic under Vaclav Klaus resisted any further transfer of governmental sovereignty to the European Union. Klaus was a “state’s rights” man if there ever was one. Then Milos Zeman because president, and overnight the prospect for a Czech push for more European integration improved markedly.
Did the residents of the Czech Republic suddenly become pro-Europe when a pro-integrationist party took power in the Castle, or are the labels more a function of partisan politics? 
“I very much believe that though the future development will not be smooth, I’m convinced that it will lead to greater integration, sooner or later, and therefore a president who believes that we should be part of the hardcore of integrated, democratic Europe, is for me a signal that the danger that we would finish on some kind of periphery of our own continent is now gone forever,” Jan Kavan, a former Czech foreign minister, said following the election.[1] Similarly, Deutsche Welle argued that “Milos Zeman is certainly more pro-European than his predecessor Vaclav Klaus, who never missed an opportunity to attack the pace and direction of European integration.”[2] Does the remarkable shift mean that the state moved to the federalist column, or is it more accurate to say that Czech electoral politics shifted slightly, resulting in a change of party in power? The second possibility means that Euroskepticism is more vulnerable at the state level, and thus less of a threat to the Union.
Even in Britain, Tony Blair had been much more pro-E.U. than David Cameron. Although polls showed a shift in popular sentiment against the E.U. from 2012 through 2014, due in part to the risks in the debt crisis and the E.U.’s muted or gradual response, the conservative party's rise to power meant that "the E.U. as a network" position had a microphone, and thus Britain could be perceived as a Euroskeptic state. 
Looking now at the three states together, the shift to pro-E.U. governing parties in Poland and the Czech Republic raises the possibility that Britain may become increasingly isolated for as long as the Euroskeptic conservative party is in power. This could make that prime minister, David Cameron, even more determined to withdraw his state from federal competencies and related programs. Any scapegoating by federal officials or other state leaders could intensify and spread the Euroskeptic attitude in Britain. Should the Tories fall from grace electorally, however, all bets would be off, as they say, on the trajectory of greater distance continuing. 

Therefore, the future for Europe might be brighter than momentary appearances or stereotypes may lead us to suppose. It is equally true, however, that state politics in any state could turn sharply, even if temporarily, against Europe. With state-level politics having such significance for a state having a Euroskeptic or integrationist party governing, the E.U. itself has less solid sand to stand on, even if Euroskeptic state governments are temporary.  

1, “New Czech President No Stranger to Controversy,” Deutsche Welle, 29 January 2013
2, Ibid.